"Aquaman" is ready to join the ranks of beloved movie heroes, but it's far from a sure deal. (Illustration Ben Miller, Towson University)
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"Aquaman" is ready to join the ranks of beloved movie heroes, but it's far from a sure deal. (Illustration Ben Miller, Towson University)

A definitive ranking of the DC films, as well as where Jason Momoa’s new flick will fall in the hierarchy.

As a kid, I remember thinking that Aquaman was commonly understood to be the lamest hero of the DC Comic universe, paling in coolness in comparison to other more prolific names, such as Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash. However, in their new films, it seems like DC has made a concerted effort to propel Aquaman to total bad— status.

It helps, in part, that the movie industry’s innovations in CGI have finally allowed DC to showcase Aquaman’s capabilities in all their awe-inducing splendor, something that was impossible before underwater kingdoms could be faithfully recreated on the silver screen. It could also be why audiences haven’t seen Aquaman in this light before; filmmakers simply haven’t had the resources necessary to bring Aquaman to life in such a powerful way.

Indeed, moviegoers in 2018 have seen the boundaries of special effects tested like never before. Although Marvel Studios seems to have a firm grip on superhero cinema excellence, DC films are building a strong reputation as well. The following five films are ranked in ascending order, and will feature a note on how “Aquaman” might fit into the picture.

5. Suicide Squad (2016)

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This star-studded cast ultimately failed to portray any deep emotions. (Image via Chicago Reader)

Will Smith, Jared Leto and Margot Robbie lead a star-studded cast, but “Suicide Squad” still falls flat as my least favorite DCEU film thus far. Although Smith and Robbie were heavily advertised in the promotion of the film as supervillains Deadshot and Harley Quinn, neither of them are actually able to carry the weight of the film.

Robbie, of course, looks as gorgeous as she did in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but the writing for her character lags in comparison. The majority of Deadshot and Quinn’s dialogue is headed by convenient one-liners rather than any deep reflection that could add some depth to their characters. The convention of producing a superhero film that is centered around the villain should include insight into their minds, as in many ways this is the most interesting aspect about them.

While “Suicide Squad” does give the audience fascinating insight into the relationship of the Joker and Quinn, Leto’s portrayal of the Joker is terrible. We cannot blame the failure entirely on Leto, as it wasn’t his choice to dress the character as though he were recording mixtapes as a side gig of wreaking terror. The thuggin’ recreation of the Joker was not effective and just came off as silly. However, there’s a chance I am being too skeptical as a result of the awe I felt watching Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Nonetheless, the combination of the underwhelming action sequences and antagonist is just another way DC fails to break the surface level, making “Suicide Squad” a forgettable blip.

4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

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This high-budget film tried a bit too hard and created an overdone and overly lengthy production. (Image via Vox)

DC’s two 2016 releases are surely the weakest of the pack, even though they are the most experimental. Never before had such a high-budgeted superhero film been centered around the conflict between two heroes. The idea of Batman and Superman battling it out on the big screen with a $250 million budget had comic book connoisseurs across the globe marking their calendars. “Batman V Superman” was the No. 1 film in America on its opening weekend and eventually grossed approximately $875 million worldwide.

Still, these numbers aren’t the entirety of the matter. The film begins with Batman reflecting on the final events from “Man of Steel,” which serves as the justification for his distaste for Superman. Regardless, the film’s nearly three-hour length ultimately fails to maintain an entertaining experience. If DC studios were to include a standalone Batman chapter and set “Batman V Superman” as the third part of a trilogy, it would eliminate the film’s need to implicitly reintroduce Batman as Ben Affleck, which is a reason for the film’s length.

The hypothetical second chapter would also be able to allude to the disconnect between the two heroes, allowing for “Batman V Superman” to be more concise and action-packed because it would not have to spend 90 minutes setting up the plot for its audience. Marvel Studios is even willing to give “Ant-Man” his own series of films, so a “Batman” addition can’t be too much to ask for.

Last but not least, Jessie Eisenberg is a total miscast for Lex Luther. Historically this character is gritty, tenacious and intimidating, and Eisenberg naturally fails to embody these qualities. The actor’s performance is unlikeable — which you may say is appropriate due to him being the villain —  but it is to the point where I would rather have anyone take his place. Subsequently, “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” is much too overdone.

3. Justice League (2017)

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“Justice League” begins the return from the failures of 2016. (Image via The Verge)

“Justice League” is surely a step up from DC’s shoulder-shrugs of 2016. I mean, how can all these heroes thrown together into a plot not be fantastic? Aquaman contributes a strong presence to the film, but Ezra Miller’s performance as the Flash is equally admirable. The actor is most notable for his lead role in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and, similar to the bubbly personality of Patrick in the 2012 teenage drama, Miller is able to contribute a humorous undertone to the no-nonsense demeanor of his comrades.

The action sequences in the film are larger than life, with bone-cracking combat, earth-shattering explosions and vivid portrayals of super powers. The production of “Justice League” is unforgettable and even sizes up the CGI produced by Marvel Studios.

“Justice League” also improves on the insufferable duration of “Batman V Superman” with a length just under two hours. However, a great deal of the film consists of cleaning up the mess left behind from the previous chapter with its “surprise” ending. If anything, the only component of the film that is hampering its value is how it has to play off of the mistakes of its previous chapter.

2. Man of Steel (2013)

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The beginning of it all, and still one of the best in the DCEU series. (Image via USA Today)

The first chapter of the DCEU series is an emphatic start but failed to conjure a follow-up for three years. “Batman V Superman” obliterated the tidal wave of momentum this film initially created for the series.

DC had found the perfect face and voice for Superman in Henry Cavill and his supporting cast — including the portrayal of his intergalactic father as Russel Crowe and earth father as Kevin Costner for crying out loud — makes a perfect lineup of appearances. Michael Shannon’s performance as the antagonist General Zod was assertive, with his stern voice and fierce emotion, and Amy Adams is the perfect cast for Lois Lane, even though she may be leaving the DCEU team. Lawrence Fishburne is also a pivotal component of the well-rounded cast with his performance as Clark Kent’s editor.

Aside from the all-star cast, the special effects and epic action-shots in the film’s opening sequence set on Superman’s home-planet, Krypton, are mesmerizing. The lucid CGI illustrates otherworldly technologies, creatures and vehicles as if it were filmed on location. Similarly, the last 30 minutes of the action film are like an incessant firework grand finale with structure-crumbling explosions and impacts. Superman’s powers are on full display in the 2013 production, and director Zack Snyder contributes innovative angles and shots of the action. However, the motion-picture’s structure could have been improved by fewer flashbacks and a more concrete flow from start to end.

1. Wonder Woman (2017)

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It’s safe to say that “Wonder Woman” set a new standard in the industry. (Image via Den of Geek)

2017 was definitely a strong year for DC comics, having produced both “Justice League” and “Wonder Woman.” Similar to the recipe of “Man of Steel,” “Wonder Woman” features a high-caliber cast, with Gal Gadot as the ideal lead and supporting roles performed by Chris Pine, Robin Wright and Danny Huston. Pine builds terrific chemistry with Gadot throughout the film, and their growing love resonates with the viewer in a way not usually achieved by your typical popcorn film. He also delivers some quotable lines and serves as a funny, easygoing character.

The film builds Wonder Woman’s character background in a way that refrains from decelerating the experience of the film. Instead, the opening sequences are quite entertaining, while providing a quick transition into the journey that lies ahead. The camera work in the film is astonishing, with its beautiful portrayal of Diana’s homeland and sequences of World War II violence. The “lasso of truth” is also implemented well.

The plotline includes twists and turns that keep the audience on their toes throughout. “Wonder Woman” is quick-paced with an ideal mixture of brutal action and humorous dialogue to explore the full spectrum of a viewer’s emotions. The film can make you laugh, cry and cheer, and its ending remains with viewers long after the final credits roll. The 2017 masterpiece is the closest the DC extended universe films have gotten to superhero-cinema perfection. I do not think this title’s top spot on the list will be challenged anytime soon.

Aquaman (2018)

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“Aquaman” has the potential to swim right into a top ranking spot. (Image via IGN Entertainment)

I think it is unlikely that Aquaman will be able to surpass the masterful plotline of “Wonder Woman,” nor will it match the same level of accomplishment as being the first block-buster superhero film to be centered solely around a female hero. That said, the film’s trailer foreshadows some incredible underwater action sequences like you’ve never seen before. This type of innovation may give leeway for “Aquaman” to be comparable to “Wonder Woman” in terms of innovation. Not only are the action sequences played out underwater, but the trailer includes scenes of Aquaman skydiving without a parachute and fighting on land — so this hero is far from a one-trick pony.

The wide array of action sequences shown in the trailer makes the film seem as if it will be an eye-catching melting pot of jaw-clenching suspense, drama and action. Therefore, there is valid reason to think “Aquaman” will be able to outperform “Justice League” and “Man of Steel,” but I remain doubtful of its ability to reach the height of “Wonder Woman.”


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